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Target: Terrorism - Bush Meets With Congressional Leaders

Aired October 2, 2001 - 08:14   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: John King is standing by to bring us up to date on what is going on in the Oval Office. The president has just now finished a meeting with a congressional delegation?

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He's having meetings with the bipartisan leadership of Congress, Paula. They bring in the reporters for a bit of that session in the Oval Office. We're told we're just seconds away from seeing a live feed of that, a little question and answer session at least. The president will deliver his remarks.

On the table, we've already reported a major agreement on the budget spending levels for next year, they still have to debate the particulars of how the government spends that money, but they've agreed on the spending levels, that is significant.

But their most urgent concern right now is an economic stimulus package that could have a price tag as big as $100 billion, that an effort to try to help give the economy a jolt. You just heard from Tim O'Brien reporting on possible Federal Reserve interest rate cuts. The president and the Congress also trying to do things to help.

More government spending in some areas, more tax cuts in other areas, also extending the social safety net, if you will: Health care, unemployment benefits to those thrown out of work in events directly associated with the strikes of September 11th. They were trying to do first the airline industry, then a much broader economic assistance and stimulus package.

This now a weekly meeting, a reflection, again, of the bipartisan spirit. A remarkable change of the tone here in Washington since the events of September 11th. The president now having the Republican leaders of the Congress and the Democratic leaders of the Congress down, and I think now we can listen into the president of the United States.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is my desire to make sure that as this war unfolds that the leaders of both the Senate and the House are fully informed of what the government is doing. I can't think of a better way to conduct foreign policy than to consult regularly with the leadership. We also talked about airport security. I told the members that I'm going to be going to Reagan airport today to announce its opening and that we need to work together to make sure that the package that's evolving in the House and Senate is put together pretty quickly.

We talked about economic stimulus. There is agreement that we've got to come together with a vision about how big the package ought to be to make sure that we affect the economy in the short run in a positive way, but don't affect it in the long run in a negative way.

We agree on principles that we've got to make sure the demand for U.S. products stay strong, demand for products throughout our economy stay strong. And therefore, we talked about ways to stimulate demand.

We understand that investment has fallen off in the corporate sector, and we talked about constructive ways to stimulate investments so that the manufacturing sector, for example, of the United States has got some added wind in order to grow, to make sure that people find work.

We talked about worker displacement -- a good discussion. And there's one thing that the American people must understand, that as we work through these important subjects, we will do so in a spirit of cooperation and consultation.

And finally, all of us want to get a budget done as quickly as possible, get the appropriations process done. We're making very good progress of coming up with the size of the ultimate budget and once that's decided, we pledged to work together to get the appropriations bills moving as quickly as possible. That would be a welcomed relief from the old budget battles of the past,and I'm most pleased with the conversations we've had.

I admired all four leaders prior to September 11. I admire them even more after September 11 because they're dedicated patriots,anxious to bring our government together to make sure that we respond to the American people and in a positive way.

I'll answer a couple of questions.

QUESTION: Mr. President, is the time right now for the Taliban regime and are you prepared, sir, to recognize the Palestinian state as a part of a broad (OFF-MIKE) to the Middle East peace process?

BUSH: Those are two questions, Major. That's a good one.


Don't take it personally. You know, the idea of a Palestinian state has always been part of a vision, so long as the right to Israel to exist is respected.

But first things first when it comes to the Middle East, and we've got to get to Mitchell -- the Mitchell Accords. Senator Mitchell put together a viable blueprint that most of the world agrees with as the necessary path to ultimately solving the problems of the Middle East.

And we are working diligently with both sides to encourage the reduction of violence so that meaningful discussions can take place.

Secondly, there is no timetable for the Taliban just like there are no negotiations. I have said that the Taliban must turn over the Al Qaeda organization living within Afghanistan and must destroy the terrorist camps, and they must do so; otherwise, there will be a consequence.

There's no negotiations. There's no calendar. We'll act on our time, and we'll do it in a manner that not only secures the United States as best as possible, but makes the freedom in the world more likely to exist in the future.

QUESTION: Mr. President, a follow-up on the Middle East. Were you prepared to support the idea of a Palestinian state before the United Nations conference...?

BUSH: I read all kinds of speculation about what this administration was or was not going to do. What I'm telling you is, is that we are fully committed to the Mitchell process and we are fully committed to working with both sides to bring the level of terror down to an acceptable level for both. And I fully understand that progress is made in centimeters in the Middle East, and we believe we're making some progress.

QUESTION: How big a stimulus package do you think is needed, sir? And what do you think is the best way to stimulate demand?

BUSH: Well, the definition of a stimulus package that's needed is that it's big enough to get the economy moving in the short run but small enough so that it doesn't affect long-term interest rates, for example. And all of us are listening to the voices of leading economists, we're all opened for suggestions. The best way to stimulate demand is give people some money so they can spend it.

QUESTION: Mr. President, out of this terror...

BUSH: What? Out of what?

QUESTION: Out of this terror of September 11 comes fear.

BUSH: Yes.

QUESTION: Many Americans are still gripped with this fear and they're buying gas masks and...

BUSH: Yes.

QUESTION: They're also looking to anthrax vaccinations. What do you say to those people? Is there fear warranted?

BUSH: I say that America ought to be on alert, but we need to get back to business. That's why I'm opening up Reagan Airport. That's why we had Cabinet members get on commercial airlines over the weekend. The good news is, is that some of the load factors on American Airlines looked like they increased over the weekends.

Americans know that their government is going everything they can to disrupt any terrorist activity that may occur. We are following every lead, we're interrogating every possible suspect. We're on full alert in America. But the good news is Americans also realize that in order to fight terrorism, they're going to go about their lives in a normal way and Americans are...

QUESTION: Mr. President, are we in a recession?

BUSH: Are we in a what?

QUESTION: Are we in a recession?

BUSH: You let the number-crunchers tell us that, but there's no question our economy's hurt as a result of September 11 and the leaders here understand that. These members go back to their districts and hear the plight of families who have been laid off. I, of course, hear it all the time as well, and we're going to do something about it. That's exactly what these discussions are about.

In terms of how you call it, you know, what the numbers look like, we've got statisticians who will be crunching the numbers and let us know exactly where we stand. But we don't need numbers to tell us people are hurting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you all very much.


KING: The president speaking there in the Oval Office after a meeting, you see Vice President Dick Cheney to the president's right, the left on your screen.

This, a meeting with the bipartisan leadership of the Congress. A number of significant remarks from the president. He closed by saying let the number crunchers tell you whether or not we're in a recession. Most administration officials privately acknowledge the United States likely is in a recession. But the president saying, so they think, would only add to the pessimism about the economy, and they don't want to do that.

And you heard the president saying he wants a large stimulus package to help boost the economy. How big of a package? The president wouldn't say. Some of the proposals go as high as $100 billion. Mr. Bush did say one way to stimulate the economy is to give people more to spend, an indication that a payroll tax cut likely to be part of any proposal.

The president also saying there is no timetable, no negotiations -- excuse me -- with the Taliban. That, the president asked because the British Prime Minister Tony Blair, about an hour from now, will deliver a speech in which we are told he will tell the Taliban they have missed the time to turn over Osama bin Laden, and they now must face the consequences: Military strikes led by the United States and Great Britain. The president saying, though, no negotiations, no calendar. That the United States, if it strikes, will do so on its timetable.

One other development that would be, if we were not in this crisis, hugely significant: The president acknowledging that -- quote -- "[A]lways part of the vision for an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan would be a Palestinian state." His administration, we're told by sources, was preparing a major new Mideast initiative, that included holding out the prospect of endorsing a Palestinian state.

Now, because of the events of September 11th, and because of continued violence in the region, the president saying he doesn't want to get ahead of himself in this process. Progress in the Middle East, he says, comes in centimeters. First, the Palestinians and the Israelis must agree to a cease fire, and confidence building measures.

But, this administration, this president, for the very first time saying publicly what the diplomats usually say only privately. But yes, indeed, U.S. recognition of a Palestinian state would ultimately be part of any agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Paula, as we go back to you in New York, a remarkable note. That would be a giant headline in this town given any other circumstances. because of the crisis we find ourselves in, it is but one of the many subplots.

ZAHN: You are absolutely right. John, I thought it was interesting that the president mentioned in a very casual way that Reagan National Airport will be opened. Did he say that in lieu of a formal announcement later today, or can we expect that as well?

KING: We will see the president in the U.S. Airway's terminal just about 2 hours from now, 2 hours and 20 minutes from now. He will announce the plan to reopen the airport. It will take several days, perhaps even a week or more, to actually get the airport reopened.

But the president will announce that Reagan National Airport will reopen under extraordinary security measures. That airport, of course, in the view of the White House, and the Capitol, and the Pentagon. So, new security measures being taken. It's the last U.S. airport still closed.

But also there, remarkable, Paula, the president of the United States being asked, and you and Miles were talking about this yesterday. Sir, should the American people get vaccinated for Anthrax. The president saying that the American people should be on alert, but get back to business. A remarkable turn of events, a remarkably changed set of questions facing the president of the United States.




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